Celebrating the Deeds of the Ancient Macedonians – the hardest men to walk the earth.
WARNING: This blog accepts no responsibility for any faintness felt by women or children who read this highly masculine post.
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Date 320 BC Place Border of Asia Minor/Cappadocia
Mano a Mano
Neoptolemus vs Eumenes
There’s nothing I like better than compiling lists. Especially if it is a list of top ten masculine activities. As it happens, every time I write one of those ‘taking part in a battle’ comes out near the top. For the avoidance of doubt, I don’t mean any kind of battle, for there are some that are frankly not worthy of the name. A case in point are the drone strikes that America is currently using as part of its ‘War on Terror’ against sundry Islamist terrorist suspects. If there is a more effete way to wage a war against one’s enemies, I do not yet know it. The problem with the drone strikes is not only that they do not give the enemy a fair chance to fight back but that the American combatant doesn’t even have the decency to control his drone from anywhere near the target but instead does so from thousands and thousands of miles away in a control centre that is very likely air conditioned as well. This is a beastly way of fighting and no one will ever convince me otherwise.
You will deduce from the above that my ideal battle is one in which the combatants are on the same battlefield. Ideally, they should have the same or similar weaponry and equipment and the same opportunity to attack their enemy. A perfect example of this kind of battle is the duel that Neoptolemus and Eumenes fought against one another in 320 BC when the latter’s army fought Craterus’ somewhere on the border of Asia Minor and Cappadocia.
Our source for this confrontation is Plutarch and his Life of Eumenes. He tells how Eumenes and Neoptolemus
… had long nursed a mutual hatred and were now enraged towards each other… [recognising] each other [they] immediately galloped towards one another with swords drawn, screaming. Their horses smashed into each other, like triremes ramming, and letting go of the reins they clutched at each other, trying to tear off the other’s helmet and to rip the breast-plate from his shoulders. As they struggled, their horses bolted from under them and they were pitched to the ground.
Mutual hatred, galloping horses smashing into each like triremes – what a powerful image! – clutching and tearing. I can just feel the strength and desperation. It’s great stuff. By the way, we don’t know why Neoptolemus and Eumenes hated each other and frankly I don’t care. Knowing would only induce unwelcome feelings of sympathy, sadness and other such feminine emotions, all of which would get in the way of my appreciation of the duel.
Ah, the duel. No armies to hide behind, no unequal weapons. Just rage, fear, desire, and absolute determination to be the victor. Can it get more masculine? I think I need to lie down.
But no, let’s continue. You might have thought that having been violently dismounted from their horses, Eumenes and Neoptolemus might have been too winded to continue. Shame on you if so. No sooner had they fallen, than…
[i]mmediately they fell upon each other once again and set to grappling and wrestling. Then, as Neoptolemus tried to get up first, Eumenes stabbed him behind the knee…
At this point Neoptolemus could be forgiven for surrendering. As well as being bruised and battered and now crippled he would certainly by now have been very tired as well. But these Macedonians – they just did not give up, even if, like Eumenes, they had very little experience as a general. And so…
Neoptolemus, incapacitated in one knee and supporting himself on the other, continued to put up strong resistance… until, after sustaining many more minor wounds, he was finally struck in the neck and fell to the ground, where he lay prone.
Thinking that his enemy was finally dead, Eumenes inserted himself into the epic drama of the Iliad and started stripping Neoptolemus of his armour. But in the best story telling tradition, there was a twist in the tale. Neoptolemus was still alive. As Eumenes spat insults at his foe, Neoptolemus managed to wrap his fingers round his sword and stab Eumenes in the chest.
Did he kill him? No. Fortunately for Eumenes, the gods were on his side that day. Neoptolemus’ blow was too weak. Plutarch says it shocked more than hurt the Cardian. After recovering himself, Eumenes probably administered the coup de grâce before finishing stripping Neoptolemus’ body and making his escape.
Where do you think he went? Plutarch tells us that Eumenes ‘was suffering grievously from gashes on his thighs and arms’ so to the infirmary would have made for a good answer. But not the right one. Of course not. Rather than seek help, Eumenes ‘mounted his horse and set off at speed for the other wing’ where he thought that Craterus’ army was still holding strong.
Being hard is not just about being tough in battle. It’s also about being man enough to respect your enemies – giving them an equal chance in battle, and dignity if you achieve victory. Eumenes failed Neoptolemus in the latter respect but came good when he learnt that Craterus had died. He turned away from the fighting, and went to his old friend’s side. Once there, he discovered that his foe was still alive. This didn’t change the way he approached him, though, and he
… poured out words of pity both for Craterus and his fate and for himself and the necessity which had driven him into conflict with a friend and comrade in which he must kill or be killed.
Rating of Hard 8.5/10
Pro: Neither Eumenes or Neoptolemus shirked any aspect of their duel. Once they caught sight of one another, it was a fight to the death.
Against: Their hatred for each other (Eumenes continued to insult Neoptolemus when he was with Craterus) meant they could not fight with total honour and heroism